Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Better living the Turducken way

Greetings from Seattle! Well, Federal Way, if you want to get technical. Here are some links that have nothing at all to do with Seattle or vacation.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hiking Fiery Gizzard

Today we went for a classic Tennessee hike to Fiery Gizzard. It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful hikes the state. I've seen many pretty hikes in Tennessee, but few that I would describe as breath-taking or beautiful. But this hike lived up to all the hype. Well, it did at first, anyway, and I'm sure the second half is nice when it's not pouring down rain.

The hike is close to 10 miles. It starts by following the Grundy Day Loop for .7 miles. As the day loop reaches a tangent with Fiery Gizzard Creek, we turned off onto the Fiery Gizzard Trail. The trail then follows the creek, which is at the bottom of a gorge. Now it was an incredibly humid day, and we were soaked quickly; the weather and the scenery were reminiscent of the Olympic Peninsula, except hotter. But the hemlock trees and the creek, which is just lousy with waterfalls, made up for the weather.

Eventually we began to ascend out of the creek, and at that point it rained briefly. Luckily it stopped again while we were making the arduous hike out - the first 4.4 miles of trail lose and gain 1800 feet. We finally reached Raven Point and rested for a while. Just as we left, it started raining again. It never really stopped the rest of the hike. It was hot enough that any kind of rain gear left you as wet as the rain would have made you, except with sweat. Luckily this meant no one was in danger of being chilled. From Raven Point, we turned around to return on the Dog Hole trail. (Fiery Gizzard keeps going for a total of 13 miles.) Dog Hole follows the rim of the gorge and is probably at its best in winter when the view is not obscured by leaves. As it was, it was mostly just wet. Eventually Dog Hole rejoins Fiery Gizzard for .8 miles, and we retraced our steps on the loop. Even I, with my completeness fetish, didn't argue for finishing the loop, which would be 1.3 miles instead of .7. We did stop at the last waterfall for one of us to take a dip, but I didn't really want to be any wetter. The hike ended with a whimper as we changed into dry clothes, only to feel just as wet as ever from all the humidity.

Fiery Gizzard is definitely a hike that would be worth doing again, perhaps in different seasons, or doing end-to-end with a shuttle.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What goes on

Although classes don't start for another month, the new PhD students are beginning to arrive. I ran into one the other day at the cafe outside the library; she was on campus to meet with the faculty members she will be working with. Other new students and faculty members are in various states of here-ness - some are in Nashville but not on campus, others have moved but are on vacation, and others are here but in other buildings where I am unlikely to run into them.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down to our comprehensive exams - they begin August 15 at 9 a.m. and last for three days. At this point I just want to have the exams behind me instead of circling overhead like an albatross. I'm also working on an AERA proposal, getting a journal submission out, and post-PPI tasks. This isn't the most exciting stuff to read about, I'm sure.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nice day for a sendoff

LPO & Ying's parents
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken

Our friend Y, who defended a few months ago, is leaving town this week for a great job in institutional research. We had a send-off for her today at the Shutes Branch recreation area on Old Hickory Lake. The weather was perfect - not too humid and with a nice breeze. The only hitch was that 440 got backed up, and quite a few guests arrived much later than they intended.

Afterwards, I scrapped my plan of going to the gym since it was so nice out. Instead, I looked at the map and decided that since the Percy Priest dam was nearby, I'd go take a look at it.

I've been to several of the recreation areas created around the lake but never seen the dam itself. I discovered that the Stones River Greenway starts at the dam. The other end of the greenway will connect to the Shelby Bottoms Greenway after the connecting bridge is finished.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


This week I've been getting back into a research groove again - I have to in order for this project to be proposal-ready by the end of the month. I'm missing sharing an office with other PhD students, now. I find it helpful to bounce ideas off of other people in order to think them through. Of course, this is only helpful for me and not dreadful for them if they are doing similar things themselves; my current officemates are terrific, no question, but they don't do research. I miss being able to shout over the wall, "Hey, what do you think about differences-in-differences?" These days I have to walk over to another building to do that. It's likely that in the fall some of these folks won't even be on campus at all, what with not having desks at school.

And I'm not showing up at people's houses to discuss regression.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Big news at Vanderbilt

Aw gee!

I find the comments here especially interesting. While you could hardly describe me as an insider to Gee administration, simply being here means I know that some of the comments are far off base. In any case, whoever is next will have some large shoes to fill, and the students around here are going to miss Chancellor Gee a lot.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

And the envelope please ...

Yesterday ASHE members received an email saying that proposal accentances and rejections were being sent out this week. ASHE has online submission for conference proposals, but the website doesn't allow for notification. You can't log in and see all the results; instead, you have to wait as they arrive one at a time in your email inbox.

I had four proposals in: one solo, two co-authored with my advisor, and one as third author with another faculty member and a colleague from another insitution. I figured my best shot for an acceptance was in the last proposal, so it was disheartening to receive an email this morning saying it was not accepted. Then a little bit later another email arrived saying one of the proposals with my advisor had been rejected as well.

Things were starting to look grim, but they improved when I got an email at lunch that said my solo proposal had been accepted. We were anxiously awaiting word on our final proposal, which finally came late in the afternoon - it had been accepted as well. There was much rejoicing.

I was especially relieved because this is my third year, and I'm not funded to attend unless I'm presenting. And I need to go, to make myself visible - it's my last ASHE before I go on the job market. Also, this year my big push has to be getting publications out, which generally starts with conference presentations.

As for the poor rejected proposals, I think both will be submitted elsewhere; for one there is a perfect opportunity that was just announced yesterday.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Classic moments in dissertating

So I have a dissertation chair now. The reason I went ahead with this, even though I don't plan to do a proposal until spring, was that I had a topic that I really liked but that was going to be very hard to get data for. The collective advice of various faculty members, who were enthused about my idea (it was original, interesting, never been done, likely to get attention, important, yada yada), was to get a committee formed so I could explore data sources.

And now almost the exact same work has been released by someone else.

A very tentative conversation with my chair had him saying thinking this helped prove the case that my work is important and I should go ahead. But I'm afraid that whatever I do now in this line will be seen as derivative, as a response to what this person did. (In some ways that is true, because it would be bad research not to take that work into account - but I don't get credit for coming up with x independently. It's like being close in horseshoes.) Morever, this person is an economist, which is probably one reason why the folks I talked to weren't aware it was being done. However, I'm kind of afraid of economists. It seems like education research by economists goes like this: Economist A releases a groundbreaking report on, say, the effectiveness of charter schools. Economist B then releases a report saying, ah, but if you include this variable, the effects disappear; A did not specify the model correctly. Economist A then releases a report saying that what B put in doesn't belong, is an effect and not a cause, and before you know it the whole thing become a pissing match about whether Ariano-Bond indicators ought to be used with Heckman selection. (Or something. The argument goes from something you can explain to Mom to something technical that Dale Ballou ends up using in one of his quant seminars where even the other faculty have their heads on the table in despair.)

Even with our heavily quantitative training, I'm afraid I'm not in that league, nor is it what I really want to do. Now I'm torn between really digging in and looking to see if I can salvage this or just putting it off until after comps. Because I really should be focusing on comps and some research that needs to be farther along before I can submit it to a conference, and the deadline for that is the end of the month. I'd rather be thinking about the diss than studying (which is a whole other post), but preferences and good strategy may not be interesecting here, let alone forming a union.

Also, this situation is just about the most stereotypical PhD story ever.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

New camera

I took my new camera to Shelby Park this morning to play with it. None of the photos are of exciting things, but the camera takes good pictures. And it has a 12x zoom!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

What makes you ready to start a dissertation?

I'm reading a book called "Writing the Doctoral Dissertation" by Gordon Davis and Clyde Parker. The advice given seems to be for a PhD program that is structured entirely differently than ours. Their model student (they provide a "Goofus and Gallant") plans his research design in his research methods course. On the subject of picking a dissertation topic, they write, "Rarely does a student have a well-defined topic in the beginning. Generally, the initial topic is poorly defined, too general, and too large in scope."

Our methods course occurs in our very first semester. The proposals we created in that class were certainly poorly defined, general, and large. As we refined them over the semester, they improved, but many revealed themselves to have fatal flaws or to be embarrassingly naive. I don't know that anyone came out of there with a workable proposal; by the time we had learned to design an excellent piece of research, it was too late for that particular project. But several semesters later, we are now readying ourselves to choose dissertation topics and defend proposals. Our faculty expect that we are able to propose good research. If a member of my cohort went to them with a topic that was "poorly defined, too general, and too large in scope," I think they would be disappointed.

That doesn't mean the faculty don't have suggestions for improvement; we still only have two years of experience, and they have many more. But we all have what the book supposes only a lucky few will have a minimum of - experience in coming up with research proposals and in working on large research projects.

This book isn't very useful for me, I've decided. It's written for someone with a different personality - someone who takes a lot of convincing that planning is worthwhile. It's also apparently written for someone clueless - someone who needs to be told that when doing a literature review, one should use online databases and dissertation indices.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Stop this mountain, I want to get off

The Mt. St. Helens hike is a month away, so today I did a "simulation" treadmill workout. As you know if you read this page with any regularity, I'm caught between trying to do hikes to prepare for the big trip and the lack of sufficient natural slope. A treadmill can't really give you the experience of stepping over tree roots and up boulders, but at least it has an incline button.

Of course, it's not exactly a perfect simulation. While an 11% incline at 3.0 miles per hour for 1 hour and 40 minutes may be an approximation of the climb up, the gym's treadmills don't have negative incline setting for the trip down. (I've seen treadmills that do, but never with a decline of more than 5%.) 3.0 mph is also way faster than we will or could hike. Furthermore, I'm not carrying the weight of a backpack. And at the end I did not stop and take pictures, there was no tang of pine in the air, I never stopped for a snack, etc., etc.

Nevertheless, as an endurance test it's a reasonable benchmark, I think. And the one bit of realism it has over actually going out and doing a hike is that the temperature and humidity in the gym is a lot closer to Mt. St. Helens than Tennessee in the summer is.

Monday, July 2, 2007

In other news

As of today, I have a dissertation chair (insert happy dance).

(Does anyone want to buy me this?)